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Standing On The Edge, Looking Down

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We’re facing monumental changes, and it seems like time is hurtling forward at way too fast of a pace. Here in the next few months, we’ll be welcoming a new little human, choosing a new college for Hubby, picking somewhere to live for the first time ever, moving with a 2 year old and a 4 month old, possibly buying a house, and searching for two jobs.

How do people do this? How do you choose one place to live when the military stops telling you? How do you find a job when you haven’t worked since high school? How do you justify sending your kids to daycare when you’ve always been a stay-at-home mom? It’s all very nerve wracking.

It feels a lot like someone is prodding us towards the edge of a bottomless pit, saying “It’s okay, there’s some nice squishy lava at the bottom to break your fall. You’ll be fine.”

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Forced into Frugality

This government shutdown has left many in the unpleasant position of not having income for the foreseeable future. Many who never had to practice frugality before will be forced into it. If you find yourself in this position, here are some ideas to stretch your budget a little bit:

  1. Change the way you grocery shop. I have been forced to practice this, since the Commissary is included in the shutdown. I’ll be using the free app Ibotta, which credits money to your PayPal account for buying certain brands. You can get 25 cents-$1 back per item, which may not sound like a lot, but it adds up. Clip coupons religiously. The cost of two papers on Sunday is $3, and I consistently save $10-$15 per shopping trip. It more than pays for itself in our household. MAKE SURE YOU ONLY USE COUPONS FOR THINGS YOU WOULD BUY ANYWAYS. This doesn’t mean you should stick to your favorite brand like it’s going to disappear, but don’t fill your basket with crap you won’t eat. Brand loyalty is a couponer’s worst enemy. Print coupons from the internet, and load e-coupons to your store card if you have one. Comparison shop with the weekly ads before you go to find the best deals, even if they aren’t at your usual store. I for one have moved to El Super, where everything is in Spanish.
  2. Cut out all the non-essentials. This means alcohol, cigarettes, new clothes, books, shoes, your Netflix plan, expensive add-ons to your cell phones, new cell phones (the iPhone 5 will still be there when this is over. Promise.), and almost anything that doesn’t directly help you keep a roof over your head and food in your belly.
  3. Start walking places. If you’re somewhere that isn’t pedestrian-friendly, reach out to your neighbors. See if someone would be willing to take you to the store when they go. Gas is expensive, so use as little as you can.
  4. Consider switching all your disposables to cloth. This will take a little start-up money, but it doesn’t need to take a lot. Check on eBay for cloth diapers and wipes, cloth napkins, and un-paper towels. You can find these things from China really cheap. You can even make your own napkins and un-paper towels from an old sheet or clothes. If you doubt the cost-effectiveness of this, think about this- one diaper on eBay costs about $15. A pack of disposables costs $15. You can reuse this one diaper over and over and over, but let’s say you use it every single day. Use it for a month, you’ve paid for half a pack of disposables. Two months, and it’s cheaper for you to use that cloth one.
  5. If worst comes to worst, get rid of your internet, cable, and cell phone plan. They are money suckers, and if they start to interfere with your ability to provide food and diapers, they need to go. If you can’t get out of your cell phone plan, ask about suspending it until the shutdown is over. People will survive without being able to get a hold of you. If you’re convinced they can’t, get a cheap Tracfone or prepaid non-smartphone for CALLS ONLY. You can rack up minutes really fast if you text.
  6. If you ABSOLUTELY CANNOT CUT DOWN ANYTHING ELSE without making your family suffer (and by suffer I mean go to bed hungry), call your creditors. Everyone is affected by this shutdown, and most creditors will understand. The bank we have our car loan with is offering people who are directly affected by the shutdown the option to skip 3 loan payments if they have to. Our other bank has a similar program for loans, lines of credit, and paychecks. Call and ask the people who hold your biggest monthly bills first, then trickle down to your smallest bills. In our case, we would cut the car loan, then insurance, then cell phones, then credit cards, and so on.
  7. Reach out to your church for help. We’re one of the only military or government families at our church, and I’ve had almost every member e-mail me asking if we need help with money or food. We don’t yet, but you bet your ass that I’ll go to them first if we need help putting food on the table.
  8. Keep your head up. Do free activities with your family to keep things positive, and really try to avoid fighting with your spouse about money. Things are bad enough without your family arguing because of the finances.
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Cinderella’s Struggle (or, Dressing for a Ball)

Part 3!

Dressing for the Marine Corps Ball is not like dressing for prom. In fact, you probably shouldn’t wear your prom dress to the ball. There are, of course, other elements to a good style, so never fear! The ball outfit guide is here.

The Dress

  • Short dresses are generally a no-go. Don’t wear anything like this:

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Instead, if you must have a short dress, look for this:

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Notice that your boobs aren’t hanging out, the dress reaches to your knees, and there aren’t any crazy cutouts.

Long dresses are a much safer bet, but again, make sure everything is covered and stay away from those cutouts! Poofy dresses are generally a no-go as well, because you’re sitting or standing all night in a cramped ball room, and they take up a lot of space, not to mention make it really, really hard to pee. If you fall in love with a poofy dress, though, go for it, as long as (say it with me) everything is covered up.

Don’t feel like you HAVE to match his dress blues. It looks nice if you wear a red, blue, or gold gown, but experiment! Just don’t, for the love of all that is holy, wear a dress that looks like a flag, has Twilight characters on it, or is a crazy print. Please. I’m begging you.

Special considerations for choosing a dress:

  • When you’re breastfeeding: Don’t pick something with molded cups. Spaghetti strap dresses are usually the best option, because you can just fold down the cup. Wear a strapless bra if you have to, but make sure you have heavy duty nursing pads in there! And visit your baby to breastfeed right before the ceremony starts and right after it ends, or lordy lordy will you get engorged, and you might leak milk all over your dress and have a few of the more drunk guys staring at your chest all night.
  • When you’re pregnant: Empire waist dresses are super great for this. This is the only time I’ll tell you to wait to get your ballgown until a couple weeks before, because there really isn’t a way to determine what size you’ll be.
  • When you’re on a budget: If you live near a military base, check out the local thrift stores. In my experience, they all have dozens of beautiful, appropriate dresses for sale. Don’t assume that every dress you find there is, though! You can also check clearance racks, eBay, or Craigslist. Be willing to pay for a few alterations- it’s cheaper than buying a brand new dress.
  • When you’re in it for the long run: If you marry your Marine and will be going to the ball for four or more years, I would really suggest getting two dresses with a forgiving fit, and wearing them again and again and again. Alternate each year, and no one will remember. Plus, you’ll probably move once every two years or so, so the people in a new place have never seen it! It’ll save you major buckaroos.

Shoes!

  • Please don’t buy new shoes. Instead, pull out your comfortable, slightly worn heels, or even flats. You’ll be standing for an hour or more for cocktails, about 20 minutes throughout the ceremony, in line for the dinner buffet, and after the ball for dancing. It’s not appropriate for you to take your shoes off to dance, by the way. I personally like ballroom dancing shoes, because they’re super duper comfortable for long periods of time, and they flex. They are the only exception to the new shoes rule.

Jewelry!

  • Claires is your best friend. Find cheap jewelry that looks nice. Don’t worry about it lasting, unless you’re in it for the long run. In that case, find better quality stuff that won’t break the bank, and make sure it matches your two dresses.
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Marine Corps Ball Do’s

Part Two!

A few days ago I posted what not to do at the Marine Corps Ball, but there are plenty of things you should do to have a great time. And they are:

  • DO get a room near the ball’s venue. They’re usually held at hotels, and service members attending the ball get a discounted rate. It’s still usually expensive, since the ball is held in upscale hotels, but trust me- when your feet hurt, you’re wearing a dress, your date is in uncomfortable blues, you had a few drinks, and it’s 1am, you’ll be so glad you spent that money.
  • DO get your pictures taken. The picture packages are usually way cheaper than other studio portraits, and you don’t have to fight tooth and nail with your Marine to get them to dress up for it! Dress the kids up and get a nice family picture. Make sure you smile and pose nicely. No middle fingers, tounges sticking out, or gang signs here.
  • DO take advantage of the child care. It’s pretty cheap and you can go check on your child as often as you like (just not during the ceremony). They usually dim the lights around 9 and put on a movie so kids can go to sleep if they’re tired. Make sure you pack a sleeper for them, not just their little fancy outfit. Also, if you’re beyond the sleep deprived “I just want to collapse in bed when the baby falls asleep” phase and staying up past midnight is a theoretical possibility, consider hiring a babysitter to come with you so you can stay out a little later. Provided childcare usually ends at midnight, whereas the dancing usually ends at 1am. I know we get free tickets to a club this year to boot, so we’re splurging on a double room and taking our babysitter with us so we can stay out a little later.
  • DO remember that this is the one time of year you don’t need four signatures, the blood of a virgin, a sacrificial sheep, and kissing someone’s feet to get leave. I’ve noticed that commanding officers tend to schedule the ball on a Thursday, so you get Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (sneaky, huh? They want time off, too!). Use this time to have fun! Save money for it all year, and use it to get that double room, hire the babysitter, get your hair done, go to the club, and have a good time. It’s a celebration of the brotherhood your Marine sold his soul to- whoops, I mean worked really hard to join- and you should have fun with it!

I’ll post a dress guide within a few days!

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Marine Corps Ball Blues

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        My husband and I have been together since he went to boot camp, and as such, I’ve been to three Marine Corps birthday balls. I know this doesn’t hold a candle to those wives who’ve been to 10 or 15 of these galas, but three is still enough to have taught me what to do (and what not to do) at the ball.

       I totally understand that when you first meet your Marine, the uniform can dazzle you a little bit. They look very spiffy from the front, and drool-worthy from the back. You settle in to a nice routine of hanging out on the weekends, then before you know it, he’s asked you to accompany him to the Marine Corps Ball.

     “Yay!”, you think, “I get to dress up and dance the night away with a really handsome Marine!”

     You read a few articles, and panic sets in. What do you wear? There’s a ceremony? What do you do? Aaaah!

     First, take a deep breath. Next, know this: the Birthday Ball is a ceremony first, and a ball second. Your actions reflect on your Marine, and can get him in trouble. Here are the basic no-no’s at a ball:

  • DON’T pick out a revealing dress. Think middle school dress code here- nothing high above your knees, nothing halfway down your back, nothing that reveals any part of your belly or boob. You may see women at the ball with revealing dresses, but these women are either hired dates (if you get my drift), or married to someone so high up the food chain- whoops, I mean chain of command- that there’s no one to look down on them. You don’t want people wondering if you’re a hired date.
  • DON’T get drunk. At EVERY ball I’ve been to, there’s one person who gets smashed at the cocktail hour, and ruins the ceremony for everyone by yelling, “OOHRAH!” every time someone says Corps. It’s disrespectful and embarrassing.
  • DON’T pull out your club dance moves. No grinding, no shaking your booty, no shimmying, no krumping or whatever that is. Keep your body parts largely to yourself.
  • DON’T talk during the ceremony. Every year, there’s a part when only the service members are supposed to stand, and one or two dates end up standing too because they weren’t paying attention. Everyone stares at them, and they usually turn REALLY red and shut up.
  • DON’T panic about meeting higher-ups. They can be identified by their white pants (staff NCO’s) or their black uniform tops (officers). They’re usually really nice, and they don’t bite (at least not on the night of the ball).
  • DON’T try to wear your date’s rank. Wives can be bad about this. Just because you’re there with a Staff Sargent doesn’t mean you can be snarky to the PFCs there. He earned the rank, you didn’t. Every wife and girlfriend there is equal.
  • DON’T forget that this is a ceremony. I know I said it before, but it is worth repeating. It’s a solemn time, and the guys are there to remember their fallen comrades, not just to drink and have a nice dinner.

Before you go thinking it’s all doom and gloom, take heart! I’ll have a list of things you SHOULD do at the ball, as well as a dress code guide, in a few days.